It was Academy Awards Sunday in Los Angeles on February 26, 2012, so making it through the limousine-heavy traffic to the Beverly Hilton was a little more difficult than usual. Once there, the reward was a few hours of pleasure at the Beverly Hills Wine Festival. Braving the traffic was worth it.
The organizers put on a great show. The layout looked a little fancier than last year's event. The room in which the festival was held was decked out in chandeliers while a big screen - make that huge screen - monitor allowed those interested in the Oscar red carpet action from Hollywood to keep abreast of all the arrivals. A big band (right) provided sets of entertainment throughout the afternoon and there was even a psychic on hand with an array of tarot cards spread out. Maybe some tasters were getting a little last-minute help in filling out their Oscar pools.
On the down side, a funky numbering system and a lack of identifying signage made it a bit difficult to find specific wineries one might be looking for, but most people seemed to enjoy just making their way from table to table, sampling whatever came their way.
TGIC Importers poured mainly from their international collection, with Ironstone's Obsession being the only domestic I spotted on their table. The semi-sweet wine made from the Symphony grape has a nice sweetness with a streak of citrus acidity. Omaka Springs New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc shows grass and grapefruit, while the '09 Montes Alpha Carménere from Chile's Colchagua Valley has gobs of black cherry in an extremely smooth setting.
My first taste of Malibu's Malibu Rocky Oaks, was provided by distributor Andrew Figge (left), owner of Central California Wines. Figge poured a very nice rosé of Pinot Noir, a fruity and steely Chardonnay, a dark and peppery Syrah and a Cabernet Franc with great fruit and oak spice. All the fruit is estate grown 2,000 feet up in the Santa Monica Mountains.
Field Vineyards is situated on the Russian River in the Alexander Valler AVA of Sonoma County. They poured a vertical tasting of their Katarina Cabernet Sauvignons from 2003, 2004 and 2006. All three have wonerful, rich bouquets and the '04 is my favorite with a darker fruit expression than the other two.
The Reyes Winery table was enlightening for me. I had not been acquainted with this winery in Agua Dulce, north of Los Angeles an hour or so. I also was unaware they have an appellation now, the Sierra Pelona Valley AVA. Reyes Winery is only about a year old, and they're already winning awards with their wines. Robert Reyes (right) turned a former frog farm into a vineyard, and he has produced a prince of a Chardonnay. Its color is so rich and golden - like a Sauternes - and has such an array of spicy flavors, I was surprised to learn it was produced unoaked, in stainless steel. Their rosé is a blend of Chardonnay and Muscat, with Syrah for color. The Cabernet Sauvignon has supple tannins, the Syrah tastes bigger and the Merlot is bigger still. It's worth a trip up the Antelope Valley Freeway to explore Reyes Winery.
The Pacific Coast Vineyards table was staffed by Tammy and Todd Schaefer. Winemaker Todd said, "I'm a little nervous about pouring the newly-bottled 2010 Pinot Noir." With a history of awards and high scores behind him, it seemed his jitters were unneccessary. The thrilling acidity and brilliant tart cherry flavor of his most recent Pinot supported that feeling.
It's all Italian varieties at Sunland Vintage Cellars, a Ventura County winery. Proprietor Michael Giovinazzo told me they source their fruit from a variety of great California growing regions. He cited Lodi, Santa Barbara County and Pixley, California as some of his fruit sources. I drew a laugh when I asked if Pixley was near the Hooterville AVA, but Giovinazzo is an easy audience, as affable as they come. He explained, "if you take the 99 and hit Fresno, you've missed it." Giovinazzo's Tre Ragazzi is a non-vintage blend of '08 Nebbiolo, '09 Barbera and '10 Sangiovese. His '07 Dolcetto shows great acidity and a strong tannic structure. The '07 Nebbiolo has a nose which is almost port-like in its intensity.
Rancho Ventavo Cellars' owner and winemaker George Gilpatrick poured some of his wines, produced at his winery in Oxnard. The '07 Lodi Zinfandel shows nice, dusty tannins, while the '08 Mourvèdre from Santa Barbara County is full of bright, red fruit. "Since we don't make any whites, that's our fish wine," quipped Gilpatrick. He says it goes great with grilled mahi mahi. The '06 Petite Sirah is a 50/50 blend from a vineyard in Paso Robles and one in Santa Barbara County. It's rich with a tart undercurrent.
Mike Stan (left) of Ritual Wine Company was thoroughly enjoying his return engagement at this event. He happily poured his '09 Paso Robles Viognier with its fruit salad nose and tropical palate culminating in a nice, tart finish. High marks for acidity on his '09 Grenache and '09
Cabernet Franc. "This Franc is the first 100% single varietal wine we've made," he said. His '08 GSM is a light and breezy red produced using whole-cluster pressing. "The big crowd pleaser today is The New Black," said Stan, referring to his blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah and Grenache blend. The tasters at the table with me certainly seemed pleased to be sampling it. Stan invited me to come back later for a vertical tasting of Mourvèdre, but the traffic in the room delayed me. Hey, that's L.A. for you. There's even traffic inside.
Naked Grape poured their full line of unoaked wines. I liked their Pinot Noir and Cabernet Sauvignon just fine. Both have a lively acidity and the fresh flavors of the fruit leap out, unencumbered by the influence of oak.
D'Anbino Vineyards & Cellars of Paso Robles shows the time the owners spent in the recording industry. Their '07 Quadrophonic is a blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Merlot and Syrah. The '07 Orchestration is a Syrah blend, while the '07 Portamento is a Cab-based port-style wine. It's lush, with a great acidity.
Blue Plate Wines is practically brand new, and they showed their only offering so far, a Clarksburg Chenin Blanc which also sports some Sauvignon Blanc and Chardonnay. The grapefruit and other citrus notes are abetted by a razor blade acidity. The wine already has a "Best In Class" award to its credit.
Although the wine was the focal point of this event, there were some very tasty treats on display. Sweets from the Pacific Cheesecake Company, Randy's Brownies and Desserts and Amella Artisan Cocoa Butter Caramels were a delight, and Marcus Cavalier of Deuvo Gourmet Swets had two pralines to sample. His sea salt and espresso pralines were both pretty awesome. A cliché, to be sure, but it fits here.
Wine and dessert intersected at Chocolate Shop. They infuse red wine with chocolate in the bottling process. The result is a dry red wine with an overwhelming chocolate experience added to it. It's quite a decadent mixture of two great joys.